It feels like it’s been a long winter here in Luxembourg. Not a particularly cold one, it has to be said, but it seems to have dragged on forever.
I started working here in mid-September. At home in Warsaw the weather was still pretty good. Mostly sunny, not particularly warm but not really cold either. Lots of autumnal cloud and showers, I recall. Like it usually is in that month. Luxembourg, of course is a bit further south than Warsaw, and a bit further to the east, bordering France and Germany and Belgium, so I expected similar conditions here from the outset.
And in that I was right. It has been much of a muchness. Both places endured long dark nights, plenty of rain, and relatively little snow – even when The Beast From The East numbers 1, 2 and 3 swept through continental Europe in March, leaving destruction and floods behind. While Britain shivered and ground to a halt (as it always does when temperatures dip below zero for a day or two), while unusually deep snowfalls stunned everyone in the most southerly parts of Italy and Greece, the good people of the Grand Duchy and the Rzeczpospolita shrugged their collective shoulders and carried on as before.
Poland is, of course, historically used to long, freezing winters, even if they are lately somewhat of a rarity. There are plenty of snow ploughs in operation, little impact on the country’s railways and other public transport (notwithstanding the older trams being very cold and uncomfortable) and everyone has to change to winter tyres sometime in October. There is little impact on we fliers either: all the airports have plenty of ploughs and de-icing trucks to keep runways and aprons clear of all but the very worst snowfalls, and delays are rare and mainly due to aircraft de-icing procedures that add maybe 5 or 10 minutes to departure. Even that was rare to non-existent this year – if there were de-icing delays at Warsaw airport they happened on days when I didn’t travel: I can’t remember a single early Monday morning flight where we had to pause for a clean up.
Now I’m not sure what constitutes “normal” winter weather in Luxembourg. I don’t know whether it suffers a lot from prolonged rainfall and chilly winds, or whether deep and crisp and even snowfalls are a regular occurrence: I believe not. From talking to people at work, it does seem to be a rather cold and wet winter climate, so not unlike Britain. Which makes this winter pretty normal. I didn’t notice any snowploughs in evidence on the roads around the city, or for that matter at the airport, and the amount of snow that fell seemed less than back home, with no more effect. No road closures, even during the worst of March weather, that I was aware of, trains and buses seemed to be running without problem and the road traffic no better or worse.
There was one morning where my flight (running nicely on time) was diverted to Dusseldorf leading to a pleasant day riding on German trains to complete the trip (see Delays, diversions and cancellations – when things go wrong posted in mid February for a full report), and one Friday evening in March when a blizzard started as I was leaving for the airport that I expected would cause me problems (in the event my flight landed, we boarded and took off – without de-icing – bang on time: friends of mine travelling to Bucharest via Munich were less lucky and spent an additional night in a Luxembourgisch hotel paid for by Lufthansa), but apart from that the snow, such as it was, passed me by completely.
So in weather terms, this long winter was not so bad. But Luxembourg is not my home. Warsaw is. Living in a hotel, a very average hotel, is something that although I’m used to it is still not right. OK, the beds are comfortable enough (although the pillows way too soft) and I can watch BBC News, BBC1 and BBC2 on the tv in my room, and the place is only a 10 minute walk from the office (which I can see from most rooms I’ve slept in so far), so it is nothing if not convenient. There is a bar and restaurant in another block in the complex and the food edible although lacking variety. The fact that you have to walk 100metres or so from hotel reception to bar complex makes things less attractive, especially if the weather is cold and wet or snowy.
The old town, the city centre, is a 10 or 15 minutes walk away, and although there is a good selection of restaurants and bars there, its distance makes it just as unappealing in winter months. So I’ve ended up pretty much ensconced in my hotel room most nights. For the past 6 months. I KNOW I could have broken the monotony and gone elsewhere, and indeed did so, at least on the better (dryer, less cold) evenings, but frankly after a day of either sheer boredom or fraught argument and high stress by the time I get back to the hotel the last thing I’ve wanted to do after dropping my bag back in the room is to go back out again. Feet up and relax, try to get my blood pressure down and my stress levels back to normal has been the name of the game. It’s a very pretty and small city, with some lovely parks to walk through in better weather, a good variety of eateries and (expensive) shops, even a selection of English bookshops – no question. But its smallness can work against it. Once you’ve spent a couple of evenings, or even a couple of lunch breaks, exploring the city centre, that’s it – done. No surprises any more.
I was in town on a bank holiday early in my assignment. I enjoyed a lie in, then showered, had a late breakfast just before the restaurant closed, and set off to do a bit of sightseeing. I had planned to do a bit of window shopping, find an English pub a friend had recommended and settle there with beer, food, my music and my book for a few hours. The town was dead as a doornail. Hardly anyone was out and about, and I would guess most were people like me, visitors at a loose end in a strange town. All the shops were closed and shuttered. So were the restaurants, even McDonald’s. I wandered around for a couple of hours, took in the better views across the valley of the Grund and up to Kirchberg plateau with its EU Court of Justice dominating the skyline, and headed back towards the station, which was close to the English pub. I found the White Rose alright – but like everywhere else it was barred and shuttered, lunch time or not. Sadly I headed back to the hotel and stumbled upon an open branch of Subway – so that was dinner taken care of.
I’m told this is absolutely typical. Not only on public holidays but weekends too the place is like a ghost town. Never been in a city like it.
So I’m glad that this week spring has sprung.
The sun came out over the weekend, as it has across all Europe, and temperatures soared to a pleasant mid 20s. And in a few short days the trees in the park behind my hotel have gone from cold grey skeletons to bursting with green leaves and buds. The flower beds are suddenly a riot of colour surrounded by lush green grass, and I’ve been woken in the mornings by bright sunlight rather than rain or traffic noise.
I’ve spent most evenings wandering over to the old town, and sampled three very nice little cafes, sitting outside in the evening sunlight enjoying cold beer and good food (and of course my book), watching the world go by. There are more people about now: instead of hurrying home or to the hotel at the end of the working day people are doing like me and enjoying the usual European cafe society.
I expect Warsaw will be the same, when I get there in a few hours’ time (I’m finishing this in the airport Starbucks en route) and look forward to getting the bike out and going for a ride with mon famille. Great stuff.
I have no idea how long this spell, this fresh spring is going to last – with my luck, probably about 4 days max – but I certainly intend to make the most of it. While I’m doing so I will be looking forward to the summer heat, and visits to Croatia and England, maybe the Polish coast too. And bike rides in my shorts with my shirt off. Relaxing at my bolthole, beer in hand, watching the kids play with their friends while the sausages and chicken wings and pork burns on the barbie. Maybe even mowing the grass.
I can’t wait.